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Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash

'Clerks' creator spreads good will

HOLLYWOOD - At the Golden Apple on Melrose Avenue, a countercultural outpost for comix and 'zine freaks, more than 1,000 Gen Xers face up to a five-hour wait in hopes of an autograph or some words of wisdom from their hero.

Independent film writer/ producer/director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy) has come to L.A. for the unveiling of his first comic book, Clerks, which continues the tale of his crass but lovable slacker characters.

His work has made the 27-year-old Red Bank, N.J., native a force in the indie film world. He's also credited with helping get Good Will Hunting, written by buddies Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, made.

For his help, he received an executive producer credit on Hunting, which garnered nine Academy Award nominations and earned screenplay and supporting actor Oscars. Damon and Affleck star in his next film, Dogma, which begins shooting Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Smith's insights into pop culture and the new generation of moviegoers are so respected that his phone calls got the Good Will Hunting script on the right desk, the one belonging to Miramax man-behind-the-movies Harvey Weinstein.

On this day in L.A., after the autographs are signed, Smith kicks back in his Bel Age hotel suite to explain how he mixes business and friendships in high-stakes Hollywood.

He met Affleck in Minneapolis during filming of Mallrats. Affleck, who had a small role, kept flying to L.A. for meetings on Hunting.

''Every time the dude left, he would leave a thank-you note on my desk,'' Smith recalls. ''It was completely unnecessary, but after four or five notes I realized what a tremendous soul he was. He's so charming, intelligent and good-looking that I was like 'This guy should be playing leads.' ''

So Smith wrote him one, the role of Holden in Chasing Amy. The female lead was written for Smith's then-girlfriend, Joey Lauren Adams.

In that keep-it-in-the-family spirit, Smith cast Damon after a suggestion from Affleck.

Gradually Affleck confided concerns about turning over control of the Hunting script to Castle Rock productions. The film was trapped in development, with the studio edging closer to being able to make the film as it saw fit, including picking other actors.

Panicked, the writers sent Smith the script. ''I cried when I read it,'' he says. And he wished he had written it. ''It is about what real male friendships are like, that there is something underneath the exterior of chasing tail and drinking beer.''

The rest is movie history.

''I owe everything to this guy,'' Affleck says.

''I would do anything for him,'' Damon says. ''Of course, I respect Kevin as a director and a writer, but more importantly I value our friendship.''

Damon and Affleck were cast in Smith's Dogma before Hunting happened. ''They are now getting huge, huge offers,'' Smith says. ''So I felt the need to let them know if they wanted to walk away from Dogma, I wouldn't be offended.'' They stayed.

Jason Lee (Mallrats, Chasing Amy) is in Dogma, too. ''Kevin's characters have a sense of honesty, and he allows them to say things that would never be allowed in other movies,'' Lee says.

Dogma's theme is a departure for Smith. ''My first three were (boy-girl) relationship movies, but Dogma is about man's relationship with God.'' Smith is a practicing Catholic, down to prayers at bedtime.

When not filming, he often can be found behind the counter of his comic book store, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, in Red Bank. (It's also spotlighted in humorous promotional spots he helped make for MTV.)

Smith's film-comic crossover goes both ways.

To raise the $27,575 he needed to make Clerks, Smith sold his extensive personal comic collection and maxed out his credit cards. But the loss became a gain when Clerks brought home '94 Sundance and Cannes film festival awards, not bad for the then-23-year-old film school dropout.

''I had seen Richard Linklater's Slacker and figured if this counts, I can do it, too,'' he says. ''That is how the indie genre regenerates itself, and now it's nice to be a link in that chain.''

A chance to work on new story lines for Green Arrow (DC Comics) and for Daredevil (Marvel) came from having written a Superman Lives script for a Man of Steel film, starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Tim Burton.

Though his Superman script wasn't used, it ended up on the Internet, and fans sent comments to View Askew, Smith's production company.

Smith takes a break from chain-smoking Marlboro Lights to smile about having gotten ''mad props (positive feedback)'' from the script attempt. For the sake of irony he chose to wear a Superman T-shirt under his Armani jacket to this year's Independent Spirit Awards, where he picked up best screenplay for Chasing Amy. ''There is something nice about being the outlaw,'' Smith concedes. And ''since the (Superman) movie isn't being made with my script, I don't have to take any s- - - for it.''

Smith may not be an outlaw for long. With Hunting now Miramax's highest-grossing film ever (topping $110 million), Smith and his extended family may be bringing the buddy system back in style.

By Jennifer Schwalbach, USA TODAY

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